Lafcadio Hearn

Lafcadio Hearn bigraphy, stories - Collectors

Lafcadio Hearn : biography

27 June 1850 – 26 September 1904

Patrick Lafcadio Hearn ( 27 June 1850 – 26 September 1904), known also by the Japanese name , was an international writer, known best for his books about Japan, especially his collections of Japanese legends and ghost stories, such as Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things. In the United States, Hearn is also known for his writings about the city of New Orleans based on his ten-year stay in that city.


Early life

Hearn was born in Lefkada (the origin of his middle name), one of the Greek Ionian Islands. He was the son of Sergeant Major Charles Bush Hearn (of County Offaly, Ireland) and Rosa Antoniou Kassimati, a Greek woman of noble Kytheran lineage through her father, Anthony Kassimati. His father was stationed in Lefkada during the British occupation of the islands. Lafcadio was baptized Patricio Lefcadio Hearn in the Greek Orthodox Church. It is not known whether Hearn’s parents were ever legally married, and the Irish Protestant relatives on his father’s side considered him to have been born out of wedlock. This may, however, have been because they did not recognize the legitimacy of a Greek Orthodox marriage ceremony for a Protestant.Cott, Jonathan (1992), Wandering Ghost: The Odyssey of Lafcadio Hearn, Kodansha International.

Hearn relocated to Dublin, Ireland, at the age of two years, where he was brought up in the suburb of Rathmines. Other members of his family also had artistic interest. His father’s brother Richard was at one time a well-known member of the Barbizon set of artists, although he did not become well known as a painter, possibly due to a lack of personal ambition. Young Hearn had a rather casual education, but in 1865 was attending the Roman Catholic Ushaw College, Durham. He was injured in a playground accident during his teens, suffering loss of vision in his left eye.


The religious faith in which he was educated was soon lost, and at 19 he was sent to live in the United States, where he settled in Cincinnati, Ohio. For a time, he was impoverished. He eventually befriended the English printer and communalist Henry Watkin. With Watkin’s help, Hearn did low-grade journalism work.

By the strength of his talent as a writer, Hearn soon obtained a job as a reporter for the Cincinnati Daily Enquirer, working for the newspaper from 1872 to 1875. Writing with creative freedom in one of Cincinnati’s largest circulating newspapers, he became known for his lurid accounts of local murders, developing a reputation as the paper’s premier sensational journalist, as well as the author of sensitive accounts of some of the disadvantaged people of Cincinnati. The Library of America selected one of these murder accounts, "Gibbeted," for inclusion in its two-century retrospective of American True Crime, published in 2008.

Hearn continued to occupy himself with journalism and with observation and reading, and meanwhile his erratic, romantic, and rather morbid idiosyncrasies developed. While in Cincinnati, he married Alethea ("Mattie") Foley, a black American woman, an illegal act at the time. When the scandal was discovered and publicized, he was dismissed from the Enquirer and went to work for the rival newspaper The Cincinnati Commercial. Hearn divorced in 1877.

In 1874 Hearn and the young Henry Farny, later a renowned painter of the American West, wrote, illustrated, and published a weekly journal of art, literature and satire they titled Ye Giglampz that was published for nine issues. (The Cincinnati Public Library reprinted a facsimile of all nine issues in 1983).

New Orleans

During the autumn of 1877, Hearn left Cincinnati for New Orleans, Louisiana, where he initially wrote dispatches on his discoveries in the "Gateway to the Tropics" for the Cincinnati Commercial.

He lived in New Orleans for nearly a decade, writing first for the newspaper Daily City Item and later for the Times Democrat. The vast number of his writings about New Orleans and its environs, many of which have not been collected, include the city’s Creole population and distinctive cuisine, the French Opera, and Louisiana Voodoo. His writings for national publications, such as Harper’s Weekly and Scribner’s Magazine, helped create the popular reputation of New Orleans as a place with a distinct culture more akin to that of Europe and the Caribbean than to the rest of North America. His best-known Louisiana works are Gombo Zhèbes, Little Dictionary of Creole Proverbs in Six Dialects (1885); La Cuisine Créole (1885), a collection of culinary recipes from leading chefs and noted Creole housewives who helped make New Orleans famous for its cuisine; and Chita: A Memory of Last Island, a novella based on the hurricane of 1856 first published in Harper’s Monthly in 1888. He also published in Harper’s Weekly the first known written article (1883) about Filipinos in the United States, the Manilamen or Tagalags, one of whose villages he had visited at Saint Malo, southeast of Lake Borgne in Saint Bernard Parish, Louisiana.